Thursday, 28 March 2013

Performing Arts - Low Light

I was fortunate to be asked to photograph a performance of Anthony Breslin's Trybe recently. It's not the first time I've photographed performing arts so I had some idea of what to expect and how to prepare.

I thought I might cover some aspects of the preparation and shooting at the event performance.

To prepare I cleaned and checked all my gear including the sensor. Theater lighting is harsh and when mixed with smoke machines tends to bring out every spot of dust on the sensor. Charged my batteries and made sure I knew where everything was in my bag. I found dark matt clothing.

On the night I went in with another photographer George Darsas. We made ourselves known and negotiated shooting positions based on our personal preferences and the lighting positions. Our rules were set (no crossing lights and no crossing the audience). George had shot the rehearsal so knew some of what was coming. I deferred to him as he'd seen the lighting operate.

I reviewed the lighting and saw that I could either be at 45 degrees to the stage area or I could be on stage left or right. George preferred right and I preferred left so that was handy. I would have several powerful coloured spots and floods to my back and sides. Directly opposite me were more spots and floods aimed directly at me. A smoke machine was huffing filling the air. I felt the position was challenging but it gave opportunities for backlit silhouettes, layered images and interesting effects like this one.

Since my chosen position was basiclly on stage I spoke to the stage manager to work out how far I could move in each direction to minimise my visibility to the audience and eliminate any possible interference with the performers. The dark clothing helps.

Once my spot was set I lined up my lens collection that I wanted to use, spare battery and lens cloth ready to go. I made sure I knew the order as I'd have to feel for them in the dark later. In my bag nearby was a second body and other gear that might be needed during the performance. I could not keep the bag near me so if I'd needed it I would have had to cross lights to get it.

What glass did I select? I had a f/1.8 50mm prime, a f/1.8 85mm prime, a f/2.8 70-200 zoom and a f/4 24-105 zoom with image stabilisation. I normally don't use IS but it would allow me to shoot at f/4 for good depth of field and reduce the ISO. The other fast glass would also allow me to minimise my use of high ISO. I mostly used the two zoom lenses as the action was fast and furious.

The performers came in for a pre show pep talk. This was the first time I'd seen them in the stage lights. I started shooting even though a lot of them were not yet in complete costume and those that were had coverings. I wanted to test the light and prove my gear. I shot some test shots with each of my lenses. I found that when the blue and white lights were on I could use 400 iso but when the red lights were primary I had to go a high as 6400 iso to stop motion without blur. This meant I'd have to do some noise reduction in post but not too bad as my body is quite good up to and including 6400.

Some of the lighting was enourmously bright and harsh such as the massive flood from above highlighting this dancer during her performance. The harsh light combined with her white costume and face paint made shooting her without blowing out and retaining any of the other surrounding detail very challenging. Conversely there were times when the lighting was so dim I could barely manage outlines and silhouettes such as this didgeridoo player.

To shoot in the low light conditions I had to keep the shutter fast. I know my personal limits when hand holding and it's not great. I've got shaky hands. You should practice before you get into a situation so that you know your limits too. For me I follow a simple rule, minimum shutter speed is 2 x the focal length. I know this is vastly simplified but it works great for me and errs on the side of caution. If I'm shooting with a lens at 100mm then I will use a shutter no less than 1/200th of a second. As I want to control the depth of field in shoot in aperture priority (AV). This means I have to keep an eye on the shutter the camera is about to use when the button is half pressed before shooting). I could shoot in manual, but to be honest thinking about controlling two things manually (ISO and aperture) is enough without chucking in shutter on another dial. I use spot metering so my subject will be in focus and have best available light. I trust the technology.

When choosing my shots I try to pick emotive and action moments when the actors are well involved. I try to get it right in camera as much as possible. I look around and frame to cover the performers and to try and minimise surrounding detail.

In this shot you can see a paint roller clipped to the fence in the foreground and a video screen in the background. The roller was part of the stage and used throughout the performance. I also knew I could not move it as the performers would expect it to be exactly where it is when the reach for it in the dark. I waited in this moment as they moved until the screen showed a dark image then went for it squeezing off several in succession. The yellow performer is quite bright but not blown out while the others are less visible depending on their role of the moment. The lighting happened to play into my hands.

If you get an opportunity to shoot a performance, do it. See what magic you can capture of the moment. It is a lot of fun but it is also challenging and stressful. Trying to capture a moment, waiting for good light and manipulating that light as much as you can within your confines is not easy. However, the rewards are fantastic and enjoyable. If you can, spread yourself over several nights - a moment missed one night can be captured on the next.

There is an album of my favourite images from this shoot.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Opinions - Is The Photographer Right or The Critic?

This image that I posted to my stream a short time ago is of the lovely and talented +Coral Jade a street performer, model and niche arts manufacturer who is currently in Melbourne and has worked all over Australia.

Taken using the street lighting on Melbourne's Southbank it shows Coral posing in a break between performances.

After posting this to my stream I noticed I had a critic - I don't mind that in the slightest, I'm always interested to hear what other people say even if their comments are harsh. It helps me to grow as a photographer.

In this case the response was that her colouring was off and that I had cut off an entire hand and her toes and that the background was far too busy and the image wasn't sharp. This person felt I should also have had Coral move to get rid of the background hoops and also do something with the white balance to counter the street lighting.

I thought about these things for a while and decided that I would not have changed my approach in this case. I wasn't shooting Coral the model, I was shooting Coral the street performer. This was an non arranged and unrequested pose that she decided to throw in at the end of a performance for the benefit of the photographers who were on the photowalk I'd organised. A really nice gesture to the people there and one that caused a few extra dollars to land in her buskers box.

In shooting the performer, I wanted to show what she was performing with - the hoops. Some of her shots involved all of them. I was capturing a moment that I had seen with the performance, the lighting and the feel of the river reflections and Melbourne in the background. The shot encompasses exactly what I wanted.

Does this make the critic wrong? No it doesn't, but their criticism was based on the thoughts of someone who was not there and has a different image intent to mine. I wanted to convey the moment. He wanted a model shoot with hoops. Could they ahieve the same result? Not in a million years. A studio image would have been bland in comparison. It would show a girl with some hoops - not a performer who has just finished a show and is playing up to her audience with a brilliant smile.

This morning another photographer posted an image of a model he had posed and requested critique. I posted that the image was good but that the lighting cut off one of her hands at the fingers which looked awkward. Another photographer posted some other comments about the focus and depth of field. We both wrote about what the image conveyed to us. Just after posting these, I reconsidered and posted another comment to ensure that the person who had requested the critique understood the most important message. That it does not matter what I or anyone else thinks of or feels about an image. It is what the photographer and the model feel that is important. They are the ones who shared the moment, only they know the magic that was exchanged. Photography is all about sharing and conveying a feeling. It doesn't matter what else is going on as long as the message gets across.

If you receive criticism of your images, think about it carefully and decide if it is important for you. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't. Be your own critic before you share. You are your own best critic.

There is an album of Coral's entire performance. If you see her performing by the river or up on Swanston St where she often is of a weekend night stop for a moment and invest a little of your life in her show. It's a fun spectacle to watch with considerable physical prowess and skill pulled off by a very attractive young woman. Remember that she makes her living from her audience so if you enjoy the experience drop whatever you're comfortable with.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Collingwalk - An inner urban photowalk

Another photowalk bites the dust. We had an attendance around 30 or so starting at Collingwood station and migrating around the suburb looking at the amazing street art, architecture and people.

Shortly after the start the usual breaking up into the slow meanderers and the power walkers happened. The power walkers burnt out early and headed off for an early dinner. Marg and I were kicked out of a church but not before photographing the windows.

We had a few late comers, most of which caught up with us eventually and joined the walk. The walk included a lot of different genres this time including urbex, street art, performing art, stores and of course Ninja Monkeys.

The stores around Collingwood are an amazing eclectic collection, many of which were happy to have walkers inside shooting the store and their wares. We even visited a former store owned by Al who has stripped it out in preparation for a new life. Al gave us the complete history of the store and the nearby location including the gambling den supposedly operated by the Catholic church across the road and the mistress one of the priests kept in the store we were in.

Who would ever have expected to find a Sydney Harbour Bridge kit in a store named Reclaimed. This place is a photographer's paradise.

Visiting The People's Market was quite an interesting experience and it gave me an opportunity for some street photography at distance using my new (very old) 400mm prime I picked up from Frank Yuwono. The lens certainly takes some getting used to - it would generate big arms if you used it all the time.

The market is  great place to stop by for a beer and nibbles. A little pricey at the bar at $9.50 for a pint of a name beer but tolerable. Interesting art installations and the hope tree.

As usual we ran well behind time, eventually making our finishing point of The Retreat Hotel with about 15 people left in the group, others having peeled off as various times. The television soap series The Sullivans was filmed in this pub. Staffed by very friendly people with some good solid comfort food. The chicken parma was great with actual meat, generous cheese and sauce. Really nice.

It was absolutely fantastic to catch up with the regulars and meet some of the new people on this smaller more sociable walk.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Attending Photowalks


So you've been invited to a photowalk on social media. If this is your first walk you probably have some questions about what to expect and what is expected of you. Perhaps first we might chat about what exactly is  photowalk? 

A photowalk is as simple as a group of individuals with an interest in photography getting together at a particular place and time for the purpose of meandering around taking photos - creating images if you like. They generally have a start point, an end point, a route between those points and a time frame.

They often revolve around street photography, architecture or events. Sometimes they might have a theme or a celebrity head.


Check out the proposed walk from the invitation and check out if it will interest you. You can do this with tools like Google Maps Street View to show you the general area. It will help you set expectations.

A critical point to remember is the walk is organised by volunteers. There is no group, association or corporate body that is responsible for you and your safety. That's entirely up to you. Use common sense.

Finding a Walk

Walks are generally organised and advertised through Social Media such as Google+ and Evil Blue (Facebook). I lead the Photograph Melbourne  community over on g+. Our community is  very vibrant and diverse collection of people with just about every type of human represented.

Other people announce walks via Facebook. There is someone in every city and town organising photowalks - use search if you cannot find them.

Our walks are promoted through various channels including EventBrite.

On The Day

The walk day has come - how do you prepare? What should you take with you?

Things to Take

Well lets start with the obvious. How about a camera? Do you need a fancy DSLR with interchangeable lenses? Of course not. A phone will do. Lots of people on our walks shoot with just about every device imaginable from home made pin hole film cameras through to the top of the range DSLR and everything in between. What you take is entirely up to you. Don't carry more than you can comfortably handle over the expected distance. Are your batteries charged? It might sound silly but I hear about it on walks all the time.

Usually the walk announcement will include a map, print one out - don't assume the walk leader will do it. Remember we're not paid. Printing costs money.

I'm often amazed at how many people turn up inappropriately dressed. Check the weather and dress accordingly. Remember this is Melbourne - four seasons in a day. When you're going on a walk about town, especially if you're carrying something you really need decent footwear. At least some comfortable runners.

When You Get There

Arrive a bit before the start time, find the walk leader (probably the person who invited you) and introduce yourself. Remember that the walk leader may be a bit harassed and may not be all that responsive at that time. I know when I lead walks from time to time I'm a bit short with people at the beginning. Don't take it to heart - please! The walk leader won't remember 50 people's names so please don't expect it. Especially me, I'm lucky I can remember my own name sometimes.

Before the walk starts usually the walk leader will introduce their helpers and talk about the day and the route. A group photo is generally done at the beginning before people seperate and go their own ways.

Running Late?

Don't sweat it, take a look at the walk leader's stream to find them.

During The Walk

There is no hard and fast time table or route. If someone or something takes your fancy then spend whatever time you like on it. If you're not interested in the area then move on down the route. Not every area will have something that captures the eye of every person.

It's ok to deviate and to split up. It really doesn't matter. Generally the walk leader will post updates to the event or check in on g+ to show where they are and this will help you to know if you're ahead of, with or behind the leader.

If you duck down alleyways consider your safety - in numbers generally you're fine but on your own or with two or three the dynamics can change. The best street art is often in dark alleys but so are undesirable elements of our community.

It is a natural human trait to collect together with people you know. This can have  negative effect on a walk as other people are not included and can feel left out. Your leader will likely try and get people into groups where they can. You don't need to walk in groups but it can help with safety.

Can you take anyone's photo? Well, that depends. If they're in public and they have a reasonable expectation of being seen then yes you can take their photo. They might object and ask you not to. This is up to you - generally I stop if asked not to because its polite. If they're in private, e.g. you find a couple having a smooch behind some bins (it happens!) then I'd suggest leaving them to it and moving on. You can find out more information on photographer's rights in Australia from

Copyright is an interesting question when it comes to street photography. It is permissible to photograph public artworks and architecture. It is permissible to photograph street art and street artists. However, don't try to claim it as your own. You've got whats called a derivative work - your photograph largely documents someone elses's work. You can find out lots more from the Australian Copyright Council.

You may need to consider property rights, many places such as shopping centres restrict photography and they are within their rights to do that. Respect their rights as much as you need to.


Generally photowalks end up with a social occasion, don't be concerned if you leave earlier. Our walks usually finish at a food venue of some kind.

Once you get home, follow your usual workflow for your image creations. It is generally accepted that each walk participant will either add images to the event or create an album and share it public or just to the people on the event.

Leading a Photowalk

Leading a walk is both challenging and rewarding. I've lost count of how many walks I've organised and lead. Were they all successful? No, not completely but we learn and implement better plans for the next one. You need to think about the audience you want and their interests as well as your own.

Anyone can lead a photowalk. Start with something small. Discuss it with the community you're targeting and use their feedback in your plans. Try and get some sponsorship for your walk for giveaways.

During the walk check in on your phone from time to time to help people find you. Both existing walkers and late comers will find this useful.

Creating an Interesting Walk

Location is the big one. What is there? What is nearby? Finding areas with a variety of subject material will help gain acceptance from the most people. Everyone takes different images. Provide guidance of good photo spots but don't get up tight about it. People will do their own thing. Let them.

Planning The Route (Google Maps)

Once you've settled on an area, you might pick a theme to centre your walk around or you might just do a freestyle. Get into the area and get some local knowledge. I cannot emphasise how important this is. If you can't do it, enlist a helper who can. Remember maps and tools like street view are only as good as when they were made.

Work out your basic route and get it onto a Google Map with start, end and way points (places to regroup), interesting photographic spots, and toilets. can help you to find them. Share your map with a link into your event (see below).

 A few days before the event (no more than a week) walk or at least drive the entire route to make sure you can get through and that nothing has changed. Check out the other events that might be on at the same time. Can you incorporate them into the walk? Do you need to avoid them?

Are there any restricted areas? Do you need any kind of permits?


Consider the safety of your walkers - dark alleys hold attractions. Abandoned buildings are amazing. Major arterial roads and intersections can lead to interesting images. Would you go there? Possibly. I certainly do. Would you take a photowalk? Well, that depends on where you're going. I'd quite happily head down AC/DC Lane at night time and many others but there are some where you just wouldn't. If you would not be comfortable doing it by yourself or when taking your loved one there then don't take a walk there. Your group are responsible for their own safety but you have to be mindful and avoid being negligent.


Ah timeframes. Just how long does it take to walk from Point A to Point B. Well that is a classic question really and the answer involves string. If you're hurrying from one place in town to another for an event you can do it in a few minutes right? So wouldn't a photowalk take only a few minutes? Well, no. There are two factors at play here - everyone creates images at different speeds but they also stop and look at different things. Some might wander off down an alley to reemerge a little later on. Others will follow the exact route because they're like that. Give people plenty of time to move from place to place with oodles of time for between point shots.

Does Your Walk Need To Be Sanctioned?

Some communities such as Photograph Melbourne require the walk be presented to the Moderators to be reviewed and sanctioned to ensure it meets the guidelines outlaid in this blog before they can be announced in general if the walk leader wants to use the Photograph Melbourne name with their walk and promote it within the community. The aim here is not to restrict potential leaders but to ensure that they understand what they're getting into and provide the best possible outcome for the community.

Promoting The Walk

Creating a Google+ Event is a great way to promote a walk. Share it publicly from your own stream first then share it into the Photograph Melbourne Meetups and Photowalks category. It's important to do it this way around as communities limit the visibility of posts and events to that community to varying extents.

Be online and active to answer questions. Solicit help from interested people who indicate they're coming to be walk leaders to help you on the day with keeping people grouped and moving. With small groups this really doesn't matter at all but with big groups split them up and try to separate them with some distance to avoid angst from authorities. Be prepared to alter your plans during the day as events transpire.

Include a hash tag e.g. the walk in this blog post is #collingwalk as it will help people to find the relevant images and posts.

Sponsorship can really help you promote the walk but be careful as it is a fine line. Community photowalks are not commercial activities nor may they be treated as such. They are not a networking opportunity for your business.

Photograph Melbourne has started to use for ticketing and event management since g+ events went away.

Collecting Information & Privacy

Don't collect any private information that you don't specifically need for the activity. Follow the National Privacy Principals as much as possible. As an example, you might need the email address of the winner of a competition to provide to the sponsor. Don't take everyone's before the walk just contact the winner later to get theirs. Note that the tool does collect emails as a login but both the tool provider and the moderators will not use the emails for any other purpose. Use to push out any notifications so that you don't need to have any of the emails outside that tool.

You might be tempted to share phone numbers. I do so amongst the walk leaders, but don't ask people to give you theirs. They might volunteer it but that is different.

A lot of people see privacy differently and some take it extremely seriously.

On The Day

Turn up! Don't assume someone else will do it. Get there early. Scout out the meeting area and set up camp. Get ready for the walkers to come. If you've got any giveaways or swag from sponsors prepare to show it to people. I usually hand small stuff out at the start so I don't have to carry it. Bigger or more expensive stuff I tend to hold onto at home and use a photo competition to give it out as prizes. This improves fairness  is a good promotional aid and keeps your walk in people's minds for some time after the walk while the competition progresses. This is also good for your sponsors as it improves their visibility by repeated posts about the competition.

Consider using a tool such as Glympse to allow you to share your location to a specific group without any private information for the duration of the walk to help stragglers find you.

Stay for the entire walk. They can become a bit annoying sometimes and a bit of a slog. Make sure you stick out the entire event and ensure your stragglers reach the end of the walk. I generally end at a food or drink venue which gives early arrivers time to get stuck in while the stragglers catch up.

Do you need to walk in the lead? No, people can follow your route that you published. Some might like to be around you during the walk. Give them what guidance you can while you do your own shots.


Talk to people at the end of the walk find out what they liked or didn't like. This will be varied and you'll never please everyone. Don't even try, you'll just go mad. But do listen and use reason to make decisions. Followup with people later. Watch the streams of people who came on the walk. They are more likely to be truthful behind the safety of their keyboard. Talk to your regulars - their feedback is vital if you want to keep them as regulars!